Sunday, April 28, 2013

Bringing Digital Books to Life

Book Creator and My Story are two great apps that my grade one students use to write their fiction and non-fiction stories.  Both apps allow them to draw or add images, type, and add voice to their stories. They are both easy for my grade one students to use independently.  However as easy as they are to use to create stories, they are much harder to share outside of an iOs device.  This bothered my students and I and we needed a solution.

As my class and I were working with our high school friends creating books in Book Creator a solution came to my head which was easy enough for my grade one students to do independently.  First my students created their books in Book Creator (although the exact same thing could be done in the My Story app).  At this time they did not add voice to their stories even though they easily could with in the app.  Once their books were created they sent them to iBooks.  iBooks creates a polished book version of their hard work.

From iBooks my students took a screen shot of each page in their story. In case you’re not sure how to take a screen shot you push the sleep button and the home button on the iPad at the same time.  Before they took their screen shots I reminded my students that they wanted to make sure no signs from  the iBooks app are showing (such as library, or small page versions of the book at the bottom of the screen).

My students then brought each screen shot into a voice recording app to read what they had written on their pages.  If you know my class at all their go to app is Draw and Tell and so one by one they brought their book pages into Draw and Tell and recorded themselves reading their text. Once the recording was finished they saved them back into the camera roll.

With all the images saved in the camera roll and with voice added to the screen shots my students then went to iMovie and created a new project.  For this project they uploaded each page of their book (with the voice recording on it) and created an iMovie.  The iMovie was then saved to the camera roll and easily up loaded to their blogs and presto, their books were available for the world to see. 

Now while my class loves to use Draw and Tell and are very familiar with how iMovie on the iPad works, this could be done in other apps too. The screen shots from Book Creator could easily be uploaded into the app Explain Everything and the voice recording could be done there as well.  In addition my students wouldn’t have to go to iMovie to create a movie because it could all be done in Explain Everything.  Explain Everything shares to a variety of locations including, very conveniently, the camera roll.

The screen shots could also be easily added to Educreations and again the recording can occur there.  When you make a project public in Educreations you can get an embedding code, which can easily be shared on a student or class blog.

So while none of these options are ideal, they do demonstrate a few different ways to share iDevice created books on the web.  How are you sharing your iBooks with the world? I’d love to know other options.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Learning with Neil Stephenson

A couple of weeks ago I attended my district's fifth of six digital dinner series sessions. The evening started in the usual way with sharing by two local schools.  The first Mme Nero from Kwatlen Park Secondary.  She has her students working through some great projects in FRENCH. (Okay that always inspires me because while I learned french in school, and I can get my very basic needs met, I love that so many can read, write, and speak french as if it was their first language). After that Woodward Hill Elementary shared what they have been doing with technology and shared a truly inspiring video. Its one of the best I've seen. It makes me so proud to know this type of learning is happening in my school district.

The keynote speaker of the evening was Neil Stephenson.  I've been following Neil for a while on twitter and  met him f2f at EdCampDelta in the fall. I like what he has to say and how he thinks.  At times he pushes my thinking on twitter asking me questions which are engaging and help me reflect on what I'm doing with my students. I need that push in my thinking and I appreciate when I get it.  To no surprise Neil's talk on Thursday night did exactly that.

Neil had me really thinking about what I am doing with my students now, and how I can continue to improve my practice.  He made me think about the balance I have in my classroom with  me being the "sage on stage" and also being the "guide on the side".  It isn't one or the other, it's a combination of both. He made me look at where my balance is with my students.

Doing meaningful work also came up with a focus on inquiry.  I like having my student read, write, and do things that are important to them, while being mindful of my ministry guidelines. Neil talked about designing learning around essential questions, foundational skills, student misconceptions. He talked about not just teaching math but teaching mathematical thinking.

Through out his keynote I kept going back to what is happening in my classroom with my students. Often it's over whelming for me to meet all the goals I want to meet for myself and for my students. I know there are many things I am doing well with my students but listening to Neil speak I also know there are so many things I could be doing better.  I also struggle a lot with who is really doing the learning in my classroom as wrote about here.

As you can see I'm having a difficult time putting into words how Neil's keynote affected me as a person and an educator.  What I do know is that  I love how Neil pushes my thinking.

Some of my take aways and how they will impact my current teaching are as follows:

  • A knowledge building classroom is about deep effective inquiry.
  • Good teaching is a balance between the guide on the side and the sage on the stage.
  • Inquiry is curiousity and wondering in learning.
  • All curriculum lives in the world some where and we need to start where these ideas exist in the real world.
  • Assessment is key and learning needs to be made visible

I wish I was able to share more of what is running around in my head after listening to Neil speak but after two weeks it's still a bit jumbled up.

I am very thankful to have had the time to listen to Neil speak and I really hope he will continue to push my thinking. I'd love to have the opportunity to work with him again.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Connected From The Start by Kathy Cassidy - A Review

Kathy Cassidy is a grade one teacher in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan.  She is one of the first grade one educators I connected with when I joined twitter in July 2011 and I can't thank her enough for generously sharing her knowledge with me.  This past week Kathy published her first book, Connected From The Start: Global Learning in the Primary Grades. 

Kathy's book takes a look at the journey of connecting  young learners with the world.  In clear, gentle language Kathy explores connecting through skype, blogging, digital portfolios, twitter, and wikis.  Within each section, in addition to comprehensive text, she provides loads of links to websites, blogposts, and videos. You truly get to peek into her classroom.

I love how Kathy starts by stressing how important it is to teach our children how to be safe on-line instead of limiting their access.  And that access to an abundance of technology is not needed to get started on this journey.  A lot of what Kathy talks about can be done with just one device with internet access.  

What inspired me when I first met Kathy is how she has her young learners blogging from the very first day of school.  Her chapter on blogging clearly explains the how and the why behind this thinking.  She writes: 

If I did not let my pre-writer students post on their blogs, but instead waited until they could write prose correctly using writing conventions such as capital letters, periods, spaces between words and acceptable spelling, they would not be able to post for many months. Their parents would miss out on the opportunity to watch and be part of the incredible growth that takes place as children are learning to write. The students would be denied a global audience for their work and they would miss some encouraging early feedback in the form of comments. pg 68

In her chapter on digital portfolios Kathy reminds the reader how powerful making learning visible is and how important it is to have the child involved with making decision about the sharing of their learning.  

Throughout the book Kathy continues to remind us that having  students connected provides them with authentic literacy opportunities. Using twitter is about reading and skyping is about listening and speaking.  Connecting with real people whether through skype, blogs, wikis etc.. is a powerful way to learn.  In her words...

I could have just told the children that people around the world eat different things for breakfast. I could have suggested foods that these other people might eat. I could have read them books. I could even have bought the same Vegemite and shared it with the children. But the process of the students actually collecting information from other people around the world, and of discovering the commonalities and differences for themselves, made the experience so much richer and more meaningful.  pg. 104

But in true Kathy style she remains humble.  She talks about many of the errors that she's made along the way but stresses that it's okay to make mistakes.  This genuine honesty makes it easy for the reader to connect to her writing. 

Kathy is a truly gifted educator. Her book provides many examples of ways to connect a primary classroom with the world.  It is an inspiring read, and one that should be read by all primary teachers.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Utilizing Technology in Grade One to Help With Literacy Learning

I have had access to several iPads and computer technology for almost ten months now and in that time a lot has changed in my classroom.  Technology - whether an iPad or a desktop computer - is  just a tool my students use to show and share their learning.  My planning revolves around learning out comes and not specific websites or  iPad apps.  Here are some  ways my students are using technology for their literacy learning but I want to be very clear that we also have literacy learning with out technology too. In my room it's about meeting my students individual needs in the best ways I know how.

The British Columbia Prescribed Learning Outcomes (PLOs) for Language Arts are broken into Oral Language, Reading and Viewing, and Writing and Representing. Technology helps my student meet these learning outcomes at their just right level.

Oral Language  (Speaking and Listening)

My students listen and talk a lot in my classroom.  To be honest I love listening to them share the thinking behind their learning.  They use voice recording apps such as Draw and Tell to take pictures of their non digital work and talk about it.  They use it for digital work too. My students love to add voice to a lot of what they do.  They often put this thinking up on their individual blogs for the world to see.

My students also add voice through the Educreations, Show Me, Screen Chomp,  Explain Everything,, Voice Record Pro, Audio Boo, Tellagami, and Voice Thread.  What I love about these apps is that they provide my quieter students a comfortable setting  to share their learning in a private.  But what's even cooler is that many of these quiet students amaze me because they  are comfortable with adding these voice recording to their individual blogs for the entire world to hear.  They wouldn't do that with out technology.

We also use Skype/Google Hangout/Face Time for video conferencing to authentically practice our speaking and listening skills.  It provides my students with authentic opportunities where they can ask their questions, and answer those being asked of them.  They can discuss facts, and share ideas.  Video conferencing has played a huge part in our Oral Language learning.

Recently we had a conversation with Duck Duck Moose, the makers of the Draw and Tell App.  What was so powerful about this interaction is that Draw and Tell actually asked my students what they wanted to see added to their apps.  My students took this question very seriously and told them. But what was most powerful is that Duck Duck Moose listened.  They also asked my students to show them some of the projects they have created with their app and my students couldn't have been prouder. If that's not authentic speaking and listening what is?

Reading and Viewing

My class does a lot of reading with technology, whether it's reading a shared story projected onto the class screen, tweets that are directed to our class twitter account, reading blog posts, or moderating comments.  They read digital books and access Tumblebooks, Starfall, and National Geographic Young Explorers to name a few. They have books on iPads that track as they read, and others that are interactive.   My students also use voice recording apps to record, listen, and reflect on their oral reading.  They learn their sight words and word wall words with open ended apps such as Word Wizard, Touch Write, Draw Stars, Draw and Tell, and Glow Colouring.  They play with creating words using apps such as Chicktionary and  PopWords.  We also like closed drill and practiced apps such as Sight Word Bingo, and Sight Words Hangman.  We learn new words and read a lot both digitally and non digitally.

Skype has provided my students the opportunity to read 1:1 with a teacher in Saskatchewan. Skype provides my students with a genuine audience  who listens, and provides genuine feedback.

Technology also helps with reading by providing ways to document what is being read.  My students can respond to a piece of literature by discussing it on twitter, or through Today's Meet.  They can record important facts graphically using the Popplet app on the iPads too.

One of the benefits of having my students blog is that they are keen to read and respond to each others writing. They are also reading blog posts both in school and while OUT of school not because they have to but because they want to.  Relationships are growing through blogging and commenting, yet reading and viewing skills are also being reinforced in authentic, meaningful ways.

Writing and Representing

One of the biggest changes I've noticed with the increased access to technology in my classroom is that my students are writing way more than ever before.  I have been better able to provide them with  more choices for writing and they are thriving in all these choices.  Their blogs in particular, are their greatest personal collection of writing.   Technology has opened up my class to more ways to share their story.

My class's two favourite story writing apps are Book Creator and My Story.  They have used book creator a few times now, but most recently for a collaborative writing project with high school students. There are several reasons why I like this app for writing. It allows my students to create professional books, it allows my students to add voice to their stories, and it is easy to write collaboratively with this app.

My Story is another favourite iPad app for writing.  It allows my students to use their drawing, speaking, and writing skills to create personal books. They can be successful with this app no matter where their writing skills are.

My class  also uses Web 2.0 tools such as Voki and Storybird to write with.  They use basic word processing tools to create books.  My students use Skitch and Pic Collage to create visual stories.

Twitter has also allowed my students to write directly to someone that is important to them.  After reading a book called Boy + Bot written by Ame Dyckman, and then receiving a special treat from her, my students were keen and eager to tweet her to share their thoughts.

Recently my students used their personal blogs to thank Elizabeth Schoonmaker for sending us a copy of her book Square Cat.  While yes, we could have mailed her thank you notes, this was a much quicker and just as  meaningful way to let her know we were thankful.

One thing I must stress is that technology has NOT replaced the good teaching I do with out technology.  Literacy is a life long skill and so I , and will continue to, find different ways to best teach these skills.  I want my students to be authentic readers and writers who are keen and able to listen and share with others.  Technology has provided my students with so many more ways to do this.  How are you using technology to improve your literacy program?

Classroom Visits - Another Great PD

Over Spring Break not only was I fortunate enough to meet face to face a small handful of my twitter friends in person, but I was also able to spend the day in a couple of their classrooms.   As nerdy as this may sound I  love to visit classrooms.  I began my career as an non enrolling teacher which allowed me to work regularly in other peoples classrooms but ever since becoming a classroom teacher  it's a lot harder to get those visits in.  While on vacation I was able to spend the day in  Kristin Ziemke and Kristen Wideen's classes and I'm very thankful for that.

Kristin Ziemke - Burley School, Chicago

Ms. Ziemke's students are using the iPad to draw an image to match the poem they just heard

Long before I knew of Kristin (Ms. Ziemke) I knew of Kristin's school, Burley.  They have an extensive amount of technology in their school and were one of the first (that I knew about) teaching 1:1 with iPads in grade one.  I was pretty eager to get into Burley School.

An inquiry project hanging from strings across the classroom.

Even before I walked into her classroom I knew things were going to be different.  In British Columbia we can have no more than 24 students in a grade one to  three class.  Kristin has 32 or 33 students in her class.  Yup, 32 or 33! In my mind that's just CRAZY!

Sharing writing with the class.

I clearly remember having discussions with her on twitter on how she can possibly meet their individual needs.  What I didn't realize at the time though was that they do something interesting at Burley.  For the first half of the day 1/3 of her class, and 1/3 of the other grade one class go and work with another teacher.  Kristin doesn't even see these students until lunch.  The teacher that takes 1/3 of her class and a 1/3 of the other grade one teacher's class does the same thing with the two grade two classes after lunch.  From where I come from all I can think about  is why don't they just make two grade one classes, a grade one/two class, and two grade two classes. But then I realized that ALL the classes at her school have very large class sizes and from what I'm gathering this temporary small class is only at the grade one and two levels. Everyone else just has extremely large class sizes all the time.

Inquiry project, anchor chart, and class specialists are hanging from the strings in Ms. Ziemke's Classroom

Kristin and I talked a lot about her large class size (and how large all the classes are in her school) and the way the school is trying to alleviate it.  We talked about having only 2/3 of her students for part of the day and how it impacts the rest of her day. It was an interesting discussion and to no surprise funding and politics has a lot to do with it.  But despite the situtation Kristin is teaching in she continued to inspire me with the manner in which she works with her students.

A finished special family project sent home nightly where each student adds a button to this sweatshirt.
Kristin's class is a real hub for learning, and it's obvious from the moment you walk in ducking under anchor charts and inquiry projects.  Her students are at the centre of their learning.  In addition each student has their own iPad.  There are in fact a lot of iPads in her school with the other grades either being 1:1 or sharing one full iPad cart between a grade level.

Technology is seamlessly embedded into her teaching but her focus is very clearly on student learning and not technology. It made me smile.

Kristen Wideen - Eastwood School, Windsor, Ontario

Later that same week I had the pleasure to be in Kristen Wideen's classroom at Eastwood School.  Like with Kristin Z, Kristen W and I have had many hours of conversation over teaching and learning both on line, and over the telephone.  Our classes have done collaborative projects together too so to say that I was excited to spend time in her class with her students was a given.

Kristen's teaching environment is quite different from mine as well.  She works in an open concept school with very few doors and even fewer walls.  In her area of the school there are three classes in a large open area.  While each class has it's own home corner, a lot of what is taught is taught together.  You can't hide behind your classroom door because there are no classroom doors. Collaboration is a requirement to work at this school.

Kristen and her teaching partners have one iPad cart to share between the three classes although they are housed with Kristen.  It was interesting to see the differences between being 1:1 in Ms. Z's room, and having 1:1 access in Mrs. W's room.  A few times during the day specific iPads needed to be tracked down from another home base to continue with lessons.  There is a whole other blog post to be written between having 1:1 access, and being truly 1:1 with technology.

Back to Kristen's class.  We spent the first part of the day in the dark as a part of  Earth Hour taking place that weekend. Not to miss a beat this crew of children started their day with "Flashlight Friday".  If you're not familiar with it, it is where children read by flashlight. While I haven't (yet) tried this in my classroom it was great to see her students so focussed on reading by light.

Reading by flashlight.  All three classes were scattered around the area reading.

Kristen's students were very independent. I loved seeing how her two "Flat Stanley" ambassador's took off around the school to capture images which they later blogged about.  I love how many different projects her students were involved with, and how easily they took to them.  I love how she had a student so eager to blog about his new puppies (kittens?) and how she recognized his strong desire to write and let him continue to do that  instead of the task that the rest of the class was working on.  It was all about the learner, each and every learner as unique individuals.  That's what teaching should be about.

Flashlight reading to Fin.

Kristen's students work through literacy and numeracy rotations that allow their individual needs to be met.  It also frees her up to meet 1:1 with her students.  I liked that too.

I loved this anchor chart in Kristen W's class.
I am very fortunate to have spent a day in both Kristin Z and Kristen W's classes.  They inspire me daily with their ability to find better ways to meet their students individual needs. They push my thinking and make me re examine what I am doing in my classroom and why.  And while my teaching style is a bit different from both of theirs I left their rooms with things I can, will and have implemented into my teaching practice.  What's better than that?

But while visiting I also noticed many differences that  were obvious from my one day in each classroom.  Some of the differences are because of our different education mandates, whether at the government or school level.  These  included but were not limited to student support services, length of school day, amount of "prep" time, and amount of breaks in the day.  I was surprised to find out that at Eastwood the students have two 40 min nutrition breaks (half time spent eating half time spent in free play outside), while at Burley there was only a lunch break.  Both Kristin and Kristen have far more non instructional planning/collaborative time during the week which makes my 100 mins a week seem almost pathetic.  No wonder I spend so much time after school getting my work done.  School leadership also plays a huge role in how a school runs, and how quickly it can change (for the better or for the worse) with a change in leadership.

I'm not sure what the ideal school would look like for me, but seeing so many different ones does have my head spinning around this topic.  I am thankful I took this opportunity to spend time in these wonderful teachers' classrooms and I look forward to learning and sharing more with the in the future.  And the coolest thing of all? Kristen and Kristin are also part of the Apple Distinguished Educator Class of 2013 so we'll all be together in Austin this July.  Exciting times a head for certain.  Oh and did I mention, later this month I'm spending a day in Kathy Cassidy's class! Crazy right? And so exciting.